Today’s meeting between Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner and the local press corps had the same impressive polish and tone that impressed me so many months ago. Back then, Haslam and Banner were the archetype for how you want your NFL team to be. Banner was the take-no-prisoners, experienced executive with a hunger to step out of the shadows of his former employer. Haslam was the junior owner of one of the greatest franchises in the NFL. These guys knew how to get in front of a microphone and say the right things. Even today, as they faced an angry media mob asking questions about Rob Chudzinski’s firing — from a purely technical standpoint — Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam said all the right things. Given the circumstances currently surrounding the team, however, it wasn’t nearly good enough.
As Jimmy Haslam said twice during today’s news conference, “Talk is cheap.” He also added that “actions speak louder than words,” which is a cliché for a very good reason. Today’s press conference was a near-impossible task with the way things have gone down over the past year for the Browns. Even if Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam were right that firing Chud was something that had to be done, it is a disaster for a team that was looking to redefine itself in a new era of ownership. It’s just very funny to me that these savvy people gave as savvy a performance for the media as they’ve ever given, but because of the circumstances, it couldn’t save them today.
Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam held Rob Chudzinski accountable and attempted to defend their personnel moves over the past year. Joe Banner spoke of how active they’d been in free agency. He admitted that they didn’t get far enough along in the improvement process, but said he thought they had “moved the needle forward.” Certainly, he and Haslam thought they moved it enough to expect improvement over the course of the season from the first-year coaching staff.
Banner was asked whether it was fair and if Chudzinski deserved more time. He concluded his wordy response with, “We thought the answer was more than time and so we made a change.” That change was decided on Saturday before the Browns played the Steelers.
Banner was very measured when asked about coaching candidates. It might be my own little conspiracy theory, but he was careful not to rule out existing coaches on staff as potential replacements. I don’t actually believe that for a second, but I can’t help but think they need Ray Horton to at least allow them to conform to the Rooney Rule. Again, maybe this is my cynicism bubbling over, but I can’t help where my brain goes.
Jimmy Haslam was once again asked about Pilot Flying J, and he answered those questions the same way he has for months, including repeating his apology for any “cloud” that it hangs over the Cleveland Browns franchise. The media asked him specifically about potential indictments, and the answers were so scripted and inconsequential that I can’t even remember them, to be honest.
If there was any good news from the press conference, it’s that Joe Banner apparently doesn’t think this move is something that will set the team too far back. “I don’t think in this era that we’re asking people to sit still for some long-term plan,” he said. What that means for Browns fans in 2014 remains to be seen, but it’s difficult to figure there won’t be some serious transition costs as there have been in Cleveland with every major change since the team came back in 1999.
And I want to make it perfectly clear that this isn’t to say that the Browns should have kept Rob Chudzinski for even a second year. I only know what I know in these cases because I’m not on the inside of their organizational meetings. What I do know is that 2013 was a failure by the Browns. It was deemed a failure by the coaching staff by Joe Banner and by proxy of being at the top of the organizational chart, it’s ultimately an even bigger failure for him. As Tom Petty wrote, “It’s good to be king, if just for a while.” We were here before Joe Banner and will almost assuredly be here after him too.
Haslam and Banner say they know they deserve all this skepticism. Unfortunately for them, no matter how well they handle a presser, they couldn’t deflect the overarching tidal wave of skepticism that crashed down on them today in Berea. Joe Banner seems pretty genuinely unfazed by it all, but you have to wonder.
What I don’t wonder is just how far being media savvy will carry the new Browns. It carried them to the end of their first full season and into their first period of perceived dysfunction. Welcome to Browns town.